The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Roosevelt, September 14th, 1905


Bolton Landing, N. Y., Sept. 14, 1905.

I thank you sincerely for your kind letter of the 8th inst., and hope you will pardon me for a few remarks to remove certain misunderstandings to which my letter of the 6th may have given rise.

When speaking of “gradual disarmament,” I did not mean to say that all the armies and navies of the world should be dismissed. This I would advise just as little as I would advise the dismissal of the police force of the city of New York necessary for the maintenance of public order and the enforcement of the law. I meant only that the movement to be set on foot should have as its object to put a limit to the excessive and constantly growing armaments which are becoming so oppressive to the nations of the world. I meant, substantially, that which was aimed at by the public pronouncement of the Russian Czar, resulting in the establishment of the Hague Tribunal, and which far from being a mere fanciful conception of idealists has long occupied, and now occupies the minds of some of the best thinkers of Europe, as well as America, as a most important problem of our age.

Neither do I deny that there have been wars which were useful to humanity in promoting progress, or in establishing justice, while at the same time I believe that there have also been many wars which were not only unnecessary in every sense, and therefore criminal, but which distinctly made for injustice, tyranny and demoralization. This, however, is beside the question we discuss.

Admitting all you say of the Armenian atrocities, have we not to face the fact that the Powers stood by, without lifting a hand, although they were armed to the teeth? And does not this fact go far to show that they raised and maintained their vast and burdensome armaments not against the hosts of unrighteousness, but against one another or at least because of fear, suspicion or jealousy of one another? If they had nothing [else] in view than to prevent or punish transgressions by barbarians or to remove obstructions offered by them to the world's progress, a comparatively very small force would be required, for those barbarians are really very weak, not only singly, but in the aggregate. But, in fact, this is the spectacle we witness: For one reason or another Power A builds some new war-ships or adds a few battalions to its Army. Instantly Powers B and C and D take the alarm and hasten to make the same or greater additions to their forces so that Power A may not have any advantage in point of armament; whereupon Power A, becoming suspicious of what Powers B, C and D are doing, thinks a further augmentation of its forces necessary, which then has again the same effect on Powers B, C and D. This goes so far that even when this Republic, which ought not to be suspected of meaning harm to anybody, adds new war-ships to its Navy, the fact is used abroad as a strong argument to prove the necessity of strengthening the navies of other Powers. Thus the mad race goes on, and even this Republic, as appears from plenty of public utterances abroad, is being artfully turned into an agency stimulating it.

That the bringing about of an international agreement to stop this wasteful and cruel competition will be very difficult I readily admit. That it will be very difficult even at this moment to frame definite propositions for such an agreement is equally true. But we should be slow to put it down as an impossibility. Several great things have been actually accomplished in our time the possibility of which would have been seriously questioned by able and candid men not many decades ago. The establishment of the Hague Tribunal is one of them. The readiness with which arbitration is resorted to, the large number of international differences settled by arbitration and the constant enlargement of its scope is another. Your successful interposition between Russia and Japan is another. You say in your letter: “There is of course no analogy between international law and private or municipal law, because there is no sanction of force for the former, while there is for the latter—and I do not as yet see how it could at present be created.” Even in this respect recent events have opened a prospect of new possibilities. I mean the united action of the Powers in China occasioned by the Boxer troubles. This concert of action was indeed called forth by a peculiar situation, and the contrivance was crude and imperfect, and it worked in some respects very unsatisfactorily. But at any rate it points out what may be done. And then, in addition to all this, we have now the extraordinary moral influence which, owing to your singular achievement, you can exercise, and which may prove capable of producing unexpected results. We should, therefore, not be discouraged by the difficulties in our way, however great they appear.

You say: “But before I would know how to advocate such action, save in such way as commending it to the attention of the Hague Tribunal, I would have to have a feasible and rational plan of action presented.” To be sure, it would be well to have such a plan, if possible. But I submit to your judgment whether it would be necessary to have it, and to present it to the Hague Conference you have called, at the start of proceedings. Would it not be sufficient to get the representatives of the Powers together, to recommend impressively to them, as you suggest, the serious consideration of the subject, and then to leave it to them to evolve a definite plan from their discussion, which, of course, would not exclude the presentation of a plan on your part in the course of that discussion, made in the light thrown by the discussion upon the subject? When you set out to bring about peace between Japan and Russia, you did not present to them a definite plan of settlement, but you simply got them together to discuss the settlement among themselves, and I suppose you guided them with wise counsel when they struck formidable difficulties or so-called impossibilities and thus you achieved your glorious result. I know the parallel is by no means perfect, but it is at least suggestive of what might be done. You, of all men in the world, can, as you now stand, stir up a public opinion in favor of this course, which the objectors might find it hard to resist. The obstructions may even turn out to be less than we now imagine. You say: “I suppose it would be very difficult to get Russia and Japan to come to a common agreement on this point.” May it not be that Russia and Japan in their state of financial exhaustion might greet such an agreement as a happy line of escape from great embarrassments? Besides, the Russian Czar stands solemnly committed to this idea by his own public declarations made some years ago.

Truly, here is an opportunity—perhaps the grandest of the age—for rendering a supreme service to mankind, worthy of the noblest ambition. You may well be envied for having it in your grasp.[1]

  1. Col. Roosevelt properly refused permission to publish his answer to this letter.